Acquired Brain Injury in Children (ABiC)

Our goal is to improve the lives of children with an acquired brain injury by using child-friendly brain imaging methods and developing new therapies and treatments. Our KidStim lab is an advanced brain investigation and treatment facility in CHRC investigating the use non-invasive brain stimulation techniques to improve outcomes in children with neurological impairment.

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  • Professor Karen Barlow

    Chair in Paediatric Rehabilitation & Conjoint Chair in Paediatric Rehabilitation
    Child Health Research Centre
    Affiliate Associate Professor
    School of Biomedical Sciences
  • Ms Laura Gascoigne-Pees

    Coordinator, Clinical Research/Trials & Casual Research Assistant
    Child Health Research Centre
  • Athena Stein

    PhD student
    Child Health Research Centre

Recovery from a brain injury is difficult. Imagine how much more difficult it is in childhood. At a time when so much learning, psychological and physical developments is occurring, a child with a brain injury is faced with relearning old skills as well as trying to learn new things and keep up with his or her friends at school. A brain injury can occur because of accidents, concussion, infection, brain tumours, stroke and other causes. 

Our Concussion Recovery website offers help and information for families and clinicians about the care of children and adolescents with Concussion.

Visit the Concussion Recovery website

Our research program has a specific focus on recovery from traumatic brain injury and concussion. By increasing our understanding of brain recovery we can improve treatments and rehabilitation therapies.

Mild traumatic brain injury can be loss of consciousness and/or confusion and disorientation shorter than 30 minutes. Symptoms can also include headaches, fuzziness, dizziness, fatigue, and forgetfulness.

Paediatric concussion is a significant public health burden, sometimes referred to as a “silent epidemic”. It affects 1 in 30 children and adolescents before the age of 18 years.  Children with concussion often report post concussive symptoms (PCS):

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Mood disturbance
  • Concentration difficulties that can impact learning
  • Sleep disturbance

Post concussive symptoms are most severe immediately and soon after the incident but it can persist for weeks to months. Most recover easily, however, 15-25% of children with concussion have symptoms that last over a month with a significant impact on their school performance, friendships and family life.  Understanding why some children recover quickly and other takes several months can help pave the way for new advances in treatment and rehabilitation therapies.

Learn more about our current research or email

The KidStim lab is the first lab in Australia to explore non-invasive brain stimulation (NIBS) in children with brain injury. It opens up an exciting new chapter in treatments for children with persistent problems after a brain injury, as well as children with mood and behavioural problems. NIBS can be used to investigate and treat persistent symptoms following a concussion:

  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Stroke
  • Depression and mood problems
  • Anxiety
  • Autism

What is Non-invasive Brain Stimulation?

According to the International Neuromodulation Society, neuromodulation is technology that acts directly upon nerves. It is the alteration—or modulation—of nerve activity to produce natural biological responses by delivering electrical or pharmaceutical agents (drugs) directly to a target area.

The KidStim lab has state-of-the-art equipment to help us understand brain recovery after an injury including:

  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS ) - A non-invasive procedure that uses magnets held on the outside of the head to stimulate nerve cells in the brain 
  • Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) - Used to alter the responsiveness of groups of neurons in the brain. For example, it can be used to improve function in stroke and help depression
  • Theta Burst Stimulation (TBS) - Similar to rTMS, TBS is being explored as a faster and easier option to rTMS
  • Neuronavigation - Helps us to accurately track brain function back to your MRI. It helps the accurate placement of the TMS magnets to stimulate specific brain regions
  • Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) - A new technology showing promise in rehabilitation: it delivers low levels of current to improve brain function
  • High-Density Electroencephalography (HD EEG) - Provides high resolution pictures and connectivity maps of brain activity
  • Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) - Using light to show changes in brain blood oxygenation during activities, fNIRS may be useful to track response to treatments 

The KidStim Lab will be using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) equipment to measure activity and function of specific brain circuits. It uses brief magnetic pulses to stimulate nerve cells and change function in a selected part of the brain. The MRI-strength magnetic field is delivered from a coil placed over the scalp and a changing magnetic field is used to cause electric current to flow via electromagnetic induction. The KidStim laboratory will also be utilising neuronavigation equipment. This technology acts like a GPS system to guide or "navigate” areas of the brain so that we can accurately target TMS treatment.  

To learn more about upcoming studies in the KidStim lab or if you are interested in conducting research in the KidStim laboratory or would like to learn more about collaborating on research, please contact

The ABiC group is in the planning phase of cutting edge research, supported through recently awarded grants. 

Browse all publications by Professor Karen Barlow.

Selected publications

Unravelling the Link Between Brain Network Connectivity and Cognitive Attention Following Acquired Brain Injury: A Systematic Review of Structural and Functional Measures

This systematic review concisely and meaningfully synthesizes a large heterogenous body of research relating to the association between attention and brain connectivity to identify clear trends in traumatic brain injury (TBI) and stroke. The review found greater structural and functional connectivity within and between executive, salience, and default mode networks (DMNs) is related to greater attention after TBI, and greater functional connectivity between DMN and other task-positive networks is associated with greater attention after TBI.  Lower structural connectivity within executive control network (ECN) is associated with lower attention after stroke, and greater functional connectivity within the dorsal attention network (DAN) is associated with greater attention after stroke.

Evidence of Ongoing Cerebral Microstructural Reorganization in Children With Persisting Symptoms Following Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

Following mTBI, free water accumulation occurs in white matter tracts. This study examines neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging (NODD metrics including orientation dispersion index (ODI) and fraction of isolated free water (FISO) longitudinally following mTBI in children. These metrics may allow a more advanced insight into microstructural damage following pediatric mTBI and potentially predict recovery or persistence of post-concussion symptoms.

Changes in working memory-related cortical responses following pediatric mild traumatic brain injury: A longitudinal fMRI study

Persistent post-concussion symptoms (PPCS) lasting longer than 4 weeks affect 25% of children with mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) or concussion. Working memory (WM) problems are a common complaint in children with PPCS. Despite normal function on traditional neuropsychological tests, these children exhibit aberrant cortical responses within the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) and default mode network (DMN) regions – both of which are implicated in WM. Using a prospective, longitudinal cohort study design, we investigated changes in cortical fMRI responses within the dlPFC and DMN during an nback WM task at two timepoints: one and two months post-injury.

Efficacy of Melatonin for Sleep Disturbance in Children with Persistent Post-Concussion Symptoms: Secondary Analysis of a Randomized Controlled Trial

Sleep disturbances are commonly reported in children with persistent post-concussion symptoms (PPCS). Melatonin treatment is often recommended, yet supporting evidence is scarce. We aimed to evaluate the efficacy of treatment with melatonin for sleep disturbance in youth with PPCS following mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI).

Relating brain connectivity with persistent symptoms in pediatric concussion

Persistent post-concussion symptoms (PCS) have a detrimental effect on quality of life and neurodevelopment in children. Targeted therapies to resolve these symptoms are scarce and the link between brain activity, PCS and affected behaviors are relatively unknown. In this study, Iyer et al. reveals the association between brain connectivity and key symptoms and behaviors, such as poor sleep and cognition.

Longitudinal Assessment of Cortical Excitability in Children and Adolescents With Mild Traumatic Brain Injury and Persistent Post-concussive Symptoms

Symptoms following a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) usually resolve quickly but may persist past 3 months in up to 15% of children. Mechanisms of mTBI recovery are poorly understood, but may involve alterations in cortical neurophysiology. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) can non-invasively investigate such mechanisms, but the time course of neurophysiological changes in mTBI are unknown.

Unlocking the key to treating children with brain injuries by using imaging to predict how long, and if a child will fully recover after a head knock

Aired on 7 December 2023